UNISON doesn’t think that people should be forced to be vaccinated, but the union is encouraging members to get the vaccine when they have the chance. Vice president James Anthony – a frontline NHS worker – has had his first dose, so we fired a few questions in his direction.
James, you’re a frontline worker in a hospital and you’ve been caring for COVID patients during the pandemic – what’s that been like?
I’m a nurse specialist and, in the first peak, I was mostly doing a lot of advice work with our patients, many of whom were very scared, while also looking after my heart patients who became poorly during that time.
I felt relatively protected compared to my colleagues on COVID wards and intensive care, but it was important work. As we’ve hit the high numbers this time, the big difference is that the hospital is still full of other patients.
I’ve been back on the wards doing whatever is needed – a lot of which is delivering quality essential care such as helping patients wash or eat. As nurses, we need more and more technical and advanced skills, but there’s nothing more important that the essentials of care.
It’s also meant working alongside colleagues who are exhausted and still haven’t recovered from the first wave, and who are too often also dealing themselves with the loss of other staff to the virus.
When did you have the vaccine?
I had my jab as soon as I could get it, and it was about two weeks after they started giving them. They’re making sure absolutely none are wasted. At our hospital they’re giving the Pfizer vaccine so, once it’s out of the deep freeze, there’s a limited time to get it into someone’s arm. As you can see from the photo, I had to strip off because my scrubs were too tight!
Did you have any reaction to it?
I had a pretty sore arm for a couple of days, and maybe felt a bit more tired. I was okay as long as I didn’t lift my arm up, and my team who had it at the same time thought I was being a bit of a wimp!
Some people are concerned that it only took a year to create, when vaccines usually take much longer: why was this so speedy and does that compromise its safety?
It certainly has been quick – I’m no expert, but I’m confident that it’s safe. They had been working on the vaccine technology for years to try and deal with SARS and MERS, which are both types of coronavirus, so they weren’t starting from a blank sheet of paper.
The speed comes from giving it all the money and time needed, without the usual long waits for grant applications and approvals: getting vaccines vaccines came before everything else. They were able to recruit a huge amount of people to the studies very quickly, which means they’ve been tested on as many people as you would usually expect and been monitored for as long as new drugs are usually.
So basically, there was already work going on which could be adapted for COVID-19 and it’s amazing what can be achieved with focus and a lot of money!
When people are offered the vaccine, what would you say to them?
I’d say get it! The vaccines really are the only way out. They’re safe and they might save your life and there’s a good hope they help protect those around you too.
What would your message be to members on both the lockdowns and vaccine?
It’s been a really tough year and it’s been hard not to see our families and friends. But as members, we see the importance of the lockdowns and restrictions as we see the vulnerable in society that need protecting.
So I’d say stick with it – get the vaccine and talk to your friends and family about getting it too when they have the chance – and let’s have a drink together when we can!